Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen called his debut All-Star experience “surreal.” While he might have used other words, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander felt about the same way.
Gilgeous-Alexander especially thought the part of the All-Star Game where LeBron James soared to block his dunk attempt was surreal. It was a rare defensive effort by either All-Star team during the high-scoring contest that saw a total of 359 points Sunday night in Salt Lake City.
“He wasn’t playing no defense, then the one time I tried to get a dunk, he wanna play defense,” Gilgeous-Alexander said about James in the moments after the All-Star Game. “So I got something for that next time.”
The Thunder star will have to wait a week to exact his revenge. The Los Angeles Lakers visit Oklahoma City on March 1. He’s got four games before that encounter, though.
Fresh off of their entertaining and special weekend, when they were teammates on victorious Team Giannis, Gilgeous-Alexander and Markkanen and their regular squads will square off against each other Thursday night in Salt Lake City as NBA play resumes.
The Thunder begin the final stretch in the 10th spot in the Western Conference standings with a 28-29 record. Only the top 10 teams in each conference participate after the regular season, with the 7-10 seeds taking part in the play-in round.
Utah returns with a 29-31 record and finds itself in the 11th spot, a half-game back of Oklahoma City.
Markkanen had the time of his life playing in the All-Star game in his new NBA home. After being promoted to a starting role because of some injuries, the Finnish standout pleased the Jazz fans with 13 points and seven rebounds in his 26 minutes.
Markkanen even took being the last of the starters to be selected in the pregame draft in stride.
“Pretty surreal,” Markkanen said. “I was excited to get out there the whole weekend. I mean, I got to participate in the 3-Point Contest, but this was what we were waiting for. … Just a great experience to be a part of. I can’t wait to be here again.”
Gilgeous-Alexander, taken fifth among the reserves in the All-Star Game draft, scored nine points with seven assists and two rebounds in 10 minutes. He called the experience “super fun.”
“Tried to soak it up as much as possible,” he said. “Tried to spend as much time with my loved ones as possible.”
Aside from the memory of being blocked by James, Gilgeous-Alexander said his first All-Star bucket, a 3-pointer, is one of the highlights of his young NBA career.
“It’s top five for now,” he said. “I’m planning to have more memories.”
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points in the Thunder’s final game before the break. He ended up only playing three quarters in Oklahoma City’s 133-96 home win over the Houston Rockets.
Thursday’s game marks the first of three between Oklahoma City and Utah in the next two weeks. The teams play a two-game set in Oklahoma on March 3 and 5.
–Field Level Media